Europe's Capital of Anti-Semitism Budapest Experiences A New Wave of Hate

DPA

By Erich Follath

Part 4: 'Heil Hitler, Professor Tamas'


Things won't get that bad -- at least that was what Jewish intellectual Gaspar Miklos Tamas, 61, used to think. But he changed his mind one day last year, when a group of men in black uniforms and riding boots appeared outside his house in downtown Budapest, shouting "Heil Hitler, Professor Tamas, how are you?"

Then came the spring election, bringing with it the decline of the liberal leftist camp, for which Tamas, a philosophy professor, once held a seat in parliament. There was also Orban's two-thirds majority in parliament that suddenly makes everything possible, even a new constitution.

Tamas hasn't been invited to appear on any television programs since the election. He has heard that 16 of the 23 employees in his research institute at the Academy of Sciences are to be let go. He is one of the 16.

Surrounded by his books in his dilapidated house, he reflects on what went wrong in Budapest. He talks about the problems the right wing has used to its benefit, including high unemployment, exploitation by the post-communists, many of whom profited from the changes that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the poor job opportunities for students.

And yet, he says, even all of this cannot explain what is happening. For Tamas, the tacit agreement between Fidesz and Jobbik is "a declaration of poverty by the system" from which it may never recover. The fact that the socialists lost control of all Hungary's major towns and cities, with the exception of Szeged, in the recent municipal elections is exactly what he expected. "Well then, good night Hungary!" he says.

Awash with Culture

The evening sun bathes the city in a soft, forgiving light. On the surface, everything here is tolerant and multicultural. At the Sziget music festival, there are even Roma bands playing. And where else is Bartok more spirited, Liszt more haunting or Wagner more civilized than in the magnificent state opera?

Budapest is awash with culture -- literally. Pensioners play chess in the elegant Szechenyi thermal baths. Antique hunters bargain over art deco lamps in the stores on the Falk Miksa street. Some visitors lose themselves perusing the exhibits from the dictatorship period in the House of Terror.

Meanwhile, the motorbike club Goi, named for the Yiddish word for non-Jews, circle the parliament building in their provocative Greater Hungary jackets. And in a studio not far away, Istvan Kovacs shoots porn films. Even when it comes to hardcore, the city likes to be the best: suspenders and combat boots, sexual war games and fascistic political pornography. It's two sides of the same coin.

Around 80,000 Hungarian Jews still live in the city of 1.7 million. The synagogue on Dohany Street is considered the largest in Europe. In some of the derelict houses in the district, young people have created so-called "ruin pubs."

Feelings of Dislocation

The Simpla is one such backyard bar, where cheap beer is sipped while sitting on old car seats listening to the sound of Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa. The clientele is a mixture of brokers with their laptops and wannabe existential poets. Some of the drinkers here make fun of the "far-right idiots." Others explain that they now prefer to wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes and that their parents have packed their bags just in case. They feel dislocated, like foreigners in their own country.

The country's most famous writer has not lived in Hungary for years. Imre Kertész, 80, an Auschwitz survivor and author of "Fateless," grew up in Budapest. He is tough on his compatriots. "Right-wing extremists and anti-Semites are in charge," he told German newspaper Die Welt in a 2009 interview. "The old burdens of Hungary, her dishonesty and her propensity to repress things, are thriving more than ever. Hungary and the war, Hungary and fascism, Hungary and socialism: Nothing has been worked through, everything is painted over with pretty colors. Budapest is a city without a memory."

Kertész now lives in the German capital. "Why? It's very simple. Because for a Jewish writer, life is better in Berlin than in Budapest."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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lakechamplainer 10/14/2010
1. Countries with Hungarian Speakers
A quick check in Wikipedia shows that there are significant numbers of Hungarian speakers in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, the Ukraine and in Slovenia, Austria and Croatia. If the Hungarian right continues with their attempt "to reunite with their brothers", the governments in these countries, to say nothing of Russia, Germany and the United States, will not look kindly on their efforts. Presumably they must understand that such a policy aimed at a "Greater Hungary" will lead to repression on the Hungarian speakers in these other countries.
Kmetty 10/15/2010
2. Please try to be fair!
The article is somewhat correct about the revival of Nationalism and the anti-Jewish and anti-Roma sentiments by a small (15%) minority in Hungary. The same tendencies are observed in France, Netherlands and even in Germany. It is too strong and unfair to make Hungary the capital of Anti-semitism in the EU. Hungary is still suffering from the WW1 peace treaty of Trianon, the WW2 peace treaty of Yalta and the abandonment by the West during their bloody uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956. There is not much Hungary can do that will please the liberal Weatern news media. The majority of Hungarians (Over 80%) are tolerant of their minorities, and all religions and are proud members of the European community.
BTraven 10/15/2010
3.
The good times of the “goulash-communism” are over now Weimar is looming. I have just scanned the article which is very well written, however, I miss a hint that EU’s austerity measures have contributed to the bad condition of Hungary. Perhaps I have read it over.
Livius Tullius 10/15/2010
4. Fallacy of the excluded middle
The article is extremely poorly sourced. It interviews three liberal intellectuals plus the obligatory "nazi bogeyman" type, all of whom are persons lost in their personal grudges against society (ironically, it is Varkonyi who hates Hungary the most of all...). The only interviewee who seems capable of a nuanced view, Noemi Kiss, is almost a hidden footnote. How come that when German media writes about Hungary, it never, ever interviews any people from the mainstream right or the mainstream left? Why no opinions from Fidesz, the Socialist Party or the Greens? It might seem from the hit pieces published in Spiegel and its kind that all Hungary is about the affairs of these sad old men and the far right. But right! Who cares what the majority of society thinks! Let's again focus on the freaky fringes, slander an entire country and feel good about it! Bravo, German media! Bravo, bravo, bravo!
getusedto 10/15/2010
5.
Actually the article is making a false image, false connections. It's easy to do that for a foreign country. You use a picture that looks like a fascist army, but it's in reality a group which helps the poor, tries to provide protection for people who are attacked by thiefs, helps in rebuilding when floods or other events happen. This group was born seeing the impotence of the police and other state services in helping common people. Man (and group of men) should be sized up according to his deeds, not to the look! About the lot of rascist people in Hungary... there are very few hardcore (and in fact that is more of a psychopathological phenomena in EVERY country, and should be treated according to that). But when a society sees that there are privileged groups exploiting them, there a healthy resistance happens to be born. That's what you seem not to like and picture it as nazi. I may have an advice - the predatorious "elites" you are certainly protecting should have its own psychological introspection as well! Hate is coming from the discriminating lines of this article, not from the very majority of Hungarian people. At most they are angry and feeling deprived and under pressure. It's not by chance. Hungarian people may never rest, for centuries now. There is always a blood-sucking empire over them, and when they try to get some more autonomy, get their lifes in their hands, you write articles like this. Greetings from Hungary, anyway.
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